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detail from Gangnam Blues

Events and Screenings

A Weekend with Lee Won-suk

With their wit, whimsy, and spectacular visual design, Lee Won-suk’s films are rapidly developing a worldwide cult following. The winner of audience awards at the Udine Far East Film Festival (twice!), the Fantasia Film Festival, and the New York Asian Film Festival, Lee comes to Washington to present and discuss his two features.

A Thousand Splendid Garments: Reception and Talk with Filmmaker Lee Won-suk

Friday, June 3

5:30 pm: reception

George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum
701 21st Street NW
Enjoy Korean delicacies courtesy of the Korean Cultural Center, Embassy of the Republic of Korea, and a display of Korean costumes, including reproductions of Joseon dynasty jeogori by designer Kim Hye-soon.

7 pm: talk

GWU Elliott School of International Affairs, Harry Harding Auditorium
1957 E Street NW
A wickedly entertaining tale of competition and skullduggery, Lee Won-suk’s The Royal Tailor also is a crash course in the eye-popping splendor of Korean textiles. More than a thousand traditional hanbok garments appear in the film, with the lead actress alone wearing thirty intricately embroidered examples. As a prelude to the screening on June 4, join director Lee Won-suk and Textile Museum curator Lee Talbot, an East Asian textiles expert who previously curated at the Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum in Seoul, as they discuss the fascinating history of the film’s costumes.

The Royal Tailor

Saturday, June 4, 2 pm, NMAH
In person: Lee Won-suk, director; Yun Chang-suk, producer; Lee Talbot, curator, Textile Museum
Watch the trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AF3c1hIls0M
Featuring more than a thousand gorgeous costumes, Lee Won-suk’s historical comedy-drama tells the story of two tailors—one a staunch traditionalist, the other a brash newcomer—in a Joseon era king’s court. Their rivalry for the king’s favor is so fierce that their clothes are literally to die for. This “gorgeously styled and intricately woven yarn recalls the psychological twists of Mozart and Salieri in Amadeus in its engrossing tussles between craft and creativity, hard work and genius . . . and merits repeat viewings with its sensational visual aesthetic alone, preferably on the big screen,” raved Maggie Lee in Variety. (Dir.: Lee Won-suk, Korea, 2014, 127 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

How to Use Guys with Secret Tips

Sunday, June 5, 2 pm, NMAH
In person: Lee Won-suk, director; Yun Chang-suk, producer
Watch the trailer.
Lee Won-suk’s directorial debut stars Lee Si-yeong as an overworked assistant director of television commercials, who is so disregarded by her coworkers that they leave her behind on a cold beach when she falls asleep during a shoot. When she wakes up, she meets a mysterious hawker who sells her an advice video that he guarantees will turbocharge her romantic life. A cult hit at home and on the festival circuit (it won awards at the Udine Far East Film Festival and Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival), How to Use Guys with Secret Tips is credited with breathing new life into the romantic comedy genre. Along with wacky visuals and raunchy jokes, the film boasts generous doses of black humor springing from its director’s “frantic, nearly inexhaustible imagination” (Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter). (Dir.: Lee Won-suk, Korea, 2013, 116 min., DVD, Korean with English subtitles)

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New Korean Cinema

The main section of the festival presents a panorama of recent Korean films, from popular blockbusters to independent gems.

Gangnam Blues

Thursday, May 19, 7:15 pm, AFI
Thursday, May 26, 7 pm, CAT
Watch the trailer.
Immortalized by K-pop star Psy’s song “Gangnam Style,” Seoul’s most exclusive neighborhood was nothing but farmland a few short decades ago. Set in 1970, this epic drama from Yoo Ha (A Dirty Carnival) tells the story of how this millionaire’s playground was built by politicians, gangsters, and the armies of ruffians they hired to do their dirty work, implicitly implying that Korea’s economic miracle has its roots in corruption and thuggery. Yoo’s film is both intimate, as it traces the stories of two poor young men who become caught up in the high-stakes land grab, and vast in its thrilling set pieces, in which crowds of thugs battle it out on the muddy fields that will one day become an elite destination. “[A]n evocative and immensely entertaining saga. . . . one of the most beautifully designed and lushly filmed Korean productions ever made” (Pierce Conran, Twitch Film). (Dir.: Yoo Ha, Korea, 2015, 135 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

Right Now, Wrong Then

Sunday, May 22, 1 pm, NMAH
Watch the trailer.
The winner of the coveted Golden Leopard at the 2015 Locarno International Film Festival, this cleverly designed twice-told tale is the latest triumph from Korea’s master of intricate comedy-dramas, Hong Sang-soo (Night and Day, In Another Country). Jung Jae-young (Castaway on the Moon, Confession of Murder) won multiple awards for his performance as Ham Chun-soo, a respected filmmaker who travels to the town of Suwon to show his films. There he meets Yoon Hee-jung (Kim Min-hee), a female artist. During a long drinking bout, a relationship rises and falls. Then, the film begins again, with variations that show what might have been. “Either hour alone would be a wry, incisive, quietly painful drama. . . . Together, the two parts make a radical fiction about the crucial role of imagination in lived experience” (Richard Brody, The New Yorker). (Dir.: Hong Sang-soo, Korea, 2015, 121 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

My Love, Don't Cross That River

Sunday, May 22, 3:30 pm, NMAH
Watch the trailer.
This tender, tremendously moving documentary topped the Korean box office upon its release and went on to become the highest-grossing independent movie in Korean history. Beautifully filmed over the changing seasons in the countryside, it follows a husband (Jo Byeong-man, age ninety-eight) and wife (Kang Kye-yeol, age eighty-nine), who have been married for seventy-six years and are clearly as in love as they were when they wed. Their joy in each other’s company is tempered by the bittersweet knowledge that their time on earth is growing shorter. This story takes us on a journey through the intense pains and euphoric joys of two people living their lives to their fullest capacity. (Dir.: Jin Mo-young, Korea, 2014, 85 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)


Thursday, June 2, 7 pm, CAT
Wednesday, June 15, 7 pm, AFI
Watch the trailer.
The timely subject of income inequality gets the action-comedy treatment in the latest hit from Ryoo Seung-wan (The Berlin File, Crying Fist). Ode to My Father’s Hwang Jun-min stars as Detective Seo, a tough cop on the trail of a sneering heir to a vast conglomerate who uses his money and connections to make the less fortunate pay for his crimes. While the story has clear roots in Korea’s particular variety of class divide, Ryoo’s crisp, fast-paced direction is also an homage to classic Hollywood cop comedies like 48 Hours and Lethal Weapon. As Maggie Lee wrote in Variety, Veteran “delivers honest-to-goodness entertainment that pulses with nonstop adrenaline. . . . The film is unabashedly crowd-pleasing, but so what, if its heart is in the right place?” (Dir.: Ryoo Seung-wan, Korea, 2015, 124 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

The Throne

Wednesday, June 8, 7 pm, AFI
Thursday, June 9, 7 pm, CAT
Watch the trailer.
Based on the true story of an eighteenth-century king who executed the royal heir by locking him in a rice chest, Korea’s Oscar entry represents a triumphant return to form by historical drama specialist Lee Joon-ik (The King and the Clown). Anchored by a masterful performance by Song Kang-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) in the role of the king, “The Throne is palace-intrigue period drama par excellence” that “offers lavish production values and an acting master class from its stellar cast,” according to Clarence Tsui of the Hollywood Reporter. (Dir.: Lee Joon-ik, Korea, 2015, 125 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

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Busan Selections

The annual Busan International Film Festival is one of the largest in Asia, as well as a major showcase for new Korean films. In our continuing partnership with BIFF, we share three acclaimed films that debuted at last year’s festival, highlighting some of Korea’s most talented directors and performers.

Fourth Place

Wednesday, June 1, 7 pm, AFI
Sunday, June 12, 7 pm, CAT
Veteran director Jung Ji-woo’s “poetic and engrossing drama” (Maggie Lee, Variety) examines the world of competitive sports and the toll it takes on its youngest members. Park Hae-jun plays Gwang-su, a washed-up competitive swimmer hired by an ambitious mother to coach her young son, who keeps finishing fourth in competitions. Gwang-su’s increasingly brutal training methods begin to carry on the circle of abuse that destroyed his own youthful athletic career. In addition to its strong performances and important message, Fourth Place boasts gorgeous underwater cinematography that emphasizes the pure joy of swimming. (Dir.: Jung Ji-woo, Korea, 2015, 116 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)


Saturday, June 18, 1 pm, NMAH
In this poetic feature from the director of the Sundance Award-winning Jiseul, an old man lives an ascetic existence on a mysterious island, communing in sometimes amusing ways with the wildlife who share his home. Once in a while, the phone rings, heralding a visitor on his or her way to the next world. The old man prepares rice cakes as a last meal for these passersby. Director O Muel wrote the script for Eyelids in three days while grieving over the Sewol ferry disaster, in which more than three hundred people, most of them children, lost their lives. Although references to the disaster are oblique, the film’s elegiac tone movingly conveys O Muel’s intent to console the souls of the dead. His achievement was rewarded with the CGV Arthouse and the Directors Guild of Korea Awards at the Busan International Film Festival. (Dir.: O Muel, Korea, 2015, 85 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

The Battle of Gwangju

Saturday, June 18, 3 pm, NMAH
The 1980 Gwangju Uprising, in which government soldiers firing on student protesters led to days of deadly fighting, is one of the most significant events in recent Korean history. In this powerful documentary, Yi Ji-sang combines archival footage with reenactments based on the actual experiences of everyday people—factory workers, waitresses, and college students, for example—who took up arms against the military. As the director is determined not to show the ultimate symbol of violence, no guns actually appear in the film; the actors only pantomime their presence. The film is challenging on both an aesthetic and political level, as Korea today grapples with the return of the kind of totalitarian impulses that brought about the tragedy of Gwangju more than thirty years ago. (Dir.: Yi Ji-sang, Korea, 2015, 121 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

Views of the North
In collaboration with AFI Docs (afi.com/afidocs), we present two fascinating recent documentaries about North Korea.

Under the Sun

Thursday, June 23, 2 pm, AFI
Sunday, June 26, 7:45 pm, E Street

Watch the trailer.
Given permission by the authorities to make a film about a Pyongyang family, director Vitaly Mansky soon realized that his government minders were turning his documentary into a highly manipulated fiction. So he simply left the camera running between takes to capture them staging scenes, feeding lines, and cajoling performances out of Mansky’s supposedly “typical” subjects. This controversial, award-winning film is a remarkable and chilling glimpse behind North Korea’s propaganda curtain. (Dir.: Vitaly Mansky, Russia/Germany/Czech Republic/Latvia/North Korea, 2015, 106 min., DCP, Korean with English subtitles)

The Lovers and the Despot

Friday, June 24, 4:45 pm, AFI
Saturday, June 25, 10 pm, E Street

This film tells the true story of Shin Sang-ok, a young, ambitious South Korean filmmaker, and the actress Choi Eun-hee (both of whom were guests at the first Korean Film Festival DC in 2004). Shin and Choi met and fell in love in 1950s postwar Korea. In the ‘70s, having risen to the top of Korean society with his successful films, Choi was kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken to meet Kim Jong-il. While searching for Choi, Shin also was kidnapped. After five years of imprisonment, the couple was reunited by the movie-obsessed Kim, who declared them his personal filmmakers. Choi and Shin planned their escape, but not before producing seventeen feature films for the dictator and gaining his trust in the process. (Dir.: Robert Cannan and Ross Adam, United States, 2016, 94 min., DCP, English, Korean, and Japanese with English subtitles)

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